Acupuncture is one of the oldest and most commonly used system of healing in the world, originating over 5,000 years ago. Acupuncture has its roots deeply planted in China. Its use spread throughout ancient Egypt, the Middle East, the Roman Empire and later into Western Europe as merchants and missionaries to China told of the amazing discoveries the people of the Orient had developed. Acupuncture did not become known on a national level in the United States until 1971.
Acupuncture points on the human body are connected by pathways called meridians. These meridians conduct energy, also known as qi (pronounced "chi"), between the surface of the body and its internal organs. Each point has a different effect on the qi that passes through it. Acupuncture is believed to help balance the body by allowing the normal flow of qi.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does acupuncture work?
Several theories have been presented as to exactly how acupuncture works. One theory suggests that pain impulses are blocked from reaching the spinal cord or brain at various "gates" to these areas. Since a majority of acupuncture points are either connected to (or are located near) neural structures, this suggests that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system.
Another theory suggests that acupuncture stimulates the body to produce narcotic-like substances called endorphins, which reduce pain. Other studies have found that other pain-relieving substances called opiods may be released into the body during an acupuncture treatment.
Does acupuncture hurt?
Unlike hypodermic needles, acupuncture needles are solid, flexible, and hair-thin. They are not designed to cut the skin. Acupuncture needles are generally inserted a half-inch to an inch deep depending on the type of treatment being delivered.
While each person experiences acupuncture differently, most people feel only a minimal amount of pain as the needles are inserted. Some people reportedly feel a sensation of excitement, while others feel relaxed.
Is acupuncture safe?
When practiced by a licensed, trained acupuncturist, acupuncture is extremely safe.
What conditions does acupuncture treat?
In the late 1970s, the World Health Organization recognized the ability of acupuncture and Oriental medicine to treat nearly four dozen common ailments, including neuromusculoskeletal conditions (such as arthritis, neuralgia, insomnia, dizziness, and neck/shoulder pain); emotional and psychological disorders (such as depression and anxiety); circulatory disorders (such as hypertension, angina pectoris, arteriosclerosis and anemia); addictions to alcohol, nicotine and other drugs; respiratory disorders (such as emphysema, sinusitis, allergies and bronchitis); and gastrointestinal conditions (such as food allergies, ulcers, chronic diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, intestinal weakness, anorexia and gastritis).
In 1997, a consensus statement released by the National Institutes of Health found that acupuncture could be useful by itself or in combination with other therapies to treat addiction, headaches, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma. Other studies have demonstrated that acupuncture may help in the rehabilitation of stroke patients and can relieve nausea in patients recovering from chemotherapy.
What should I expect on my first visit?
As with most health practitioners, the first visit to an acupuncturist usually begins with the practitioner taking a detailed history. Since traditional Chinese medicine takes a more holistic approach to patient care than Western medicine, you may be asked questions that appear unimportant (questions about your sleep habits, your ability to tolerate heat or cold, your dietary habits, etc.) but are actually vital to the type of care you will receive.
An examination of the tongue and pulse is then conducted. Using all of the information obtained during the history, tongue and pulse examination, a Chinese diagnosis is made. Depending on the condition, needles are inserted into specific acupuncture points on the body. The acupuncturist may use moxa or electrical stimulation to enhance acupuncture's therapeutic effect. It may take several visits to see significant improvement or cure your condition.
What is cupping?
Cupping is the use of glass cups to stimulate blood flow to a particular area. In a typical cupping session, a cotton ball soaked in alcohol is lit on fire and placed inside a glass cup. Burning a substance inside the cup removes all the oxygen, thus creating a vacuum.
As the substance burns, the cup is turned upside-down so that the practitioner can place the cup over a specific area. The vacuum created by the lack of oxygen anchors the cup to the skin and pulls it upward on the inside of the glass as the air inside the jar cools. Drawing up the skin is believed to open up the skin's pores, which helps to stimulate the flow of blood, balances and realigns the flow of qi, breaks up obstructions, and creates an avenue for toxins to be drawn out of the body.
Depending on the condition being treated, the cups will be left in place from 5 to 10 minutes. Several cups may be placed on a patient's body at the same time. Some practitioners will also apply small amounts of medicated oils or herbal oils to the skin just before the cupping procedure, which lets them move the cups up and down particular acupoints or meridians after they have been applied.
In china cupping is used primarily to treat back pain, bronchitis, asthma, upper respiratory infections, and areas of chronic pain. Fleshy sites on the body, such as the back (and, to a lesser extent, the arms and legs), are the preferred sites for treatment.
What is moxibustion used for?
In traditional Chinese medicine, moxibustion is used on people who have a cold or stagnant condition. The burning of moxa is believed to expel cold and warm the meridians, which leads to smoother flow of blood and qi. In Western medicine, moxibustion has successfully been used to turn breech babies into a normal head-down position prior to childbirth. A landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 found that up to 75% of women suffering from breech presentations before childbirth had fetuses that rotated to the normal position after receiving moxibustion at an acupuncture point on the Bladder meridian. Other studies have shown that moxibustion increases the movement of the fetus in pregnant women, and may reduce the symptoms of menstrual cramps when used in conjunction with traditional acupuncture.
Are there any precautions I should be aware of?
Although moxibustion has been safely used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, it is not for everyone. Because it is used specifically for patients suffering from cold or stagnant constitutions, it should not be used on anyone diagnosed with too much heat. Burning moxa also produces a great deal of smoke and a pungent odor. Patients with respiratory problems may request that their practitioner use smokeless moxa sticks as an alternative.